Catalina Museum for Art & History exhibition tells ‘Tall Tiki Tales’

Courtesy artwork

Catalina Museum for Art & History will present the exhibition “Tall Tiki Tales: Catalina as a South Seas Island,” exploring Catalina Island’s contribution (as a film set) in the evolution and popularization of tiki culture. The exhibition traces the origins of tiki culture from adventure books, their adaptations into Hollywood films, to the subsequent South Seas-themed restaurants and bars that dotted the country beginning in the mid-1930s.

Opening on Oct. 22, “Tall Tiki Tales” is curated by author, tiki scholar, and cinematographer Sven Kirsten and will include artifacts, film ephemera, original books and artwork that showcase the evolution of stories and culture. Museum visitors will also interact with a one-of-a-kind tropical immersive experience designed by master tiki bar designer Bamboo Ben, as well as take a piece of tiki culture home with limited edition stickers, posters and mugs.

“We are delighted to share this unique and important aspect of film history with our visitors. The role that adventure-films such as Rain, Mutiny of the Bounty, and Hurricane played in the development of this aspect of American culture is immeasurable,” said Johnny Sampson, deputy director and chief curator for the museum. “Those films inspired an entire industry of tropical-themed restaurants and bars which used over-the-top décor and special effects to create dramatic urban paradises.”

In the early 20th Century, many armchair adventurers were glued to the pages of Nordhoff and Hall’s Bounty Trilogy and The Hurricane, W. Somerset Maugham’s short story “Rain” and The Ebb Tide by Robert Louis Stephenson. Hollywood quickly adapted these and other stories into movies, using Catalina Island as an accessible backlot for far away South Seas locales.

“Even here on Catalina,” said Sampson, “we had Christian’s Hut from the set of Mutiny on the Bounty, the Chi Chi Club at the Isthmus and in Avalon, Hotel Waikiki, and Hurricane Cove—which even had lighting effects and fans to recreate the thrill of Hurricane for its patrons.”

In celebration of the two newest exhibitions, Tall Tiki Tales and Crossing Waters: Contemporary Tongva Artists Carrying Pimugna, the museum will host a New Exhibitions Reception on Saturday, October 22. From 6-9 p.m., guests will explore the museum exhibitions, engage with the artists and curators, enjoy live music from the Hula Girls, a Polynesian-inspired buffet dinner, and rum drinks by exhibition sponsor Deadhead Rum. The exhibition is also sponsored by Bounty Rum. Tickets are $10 for museum members, $20 for non-members and $5 for children (ages 3-15), and can be purchased on the museum’s website.

For more information about “Tall Tiki Tales: Catalina as a South Seas Island” exhibition at Catalina Museum for Art & History, visit For more information about the Crossing Waters: Contemporary Tongva Artists Carrying Pimugna exhibition, visit